Are we underestimating a father’s role in fighting childhood obesity?

Are we underestimating a father’s role in fighting childhood obesity?

0 Reads  By: James A

father health

Last week, Healthy Dads Healthy Kids, (HDHK) along with new project Dads and Daughters Exercising and Empowered (DADEE), won three national awards and global recognition for its world-first family health program that focuses on the role of fathers influencing the mental and physical health of their children. 

In lifestyle parenting programs, fathers make up only 10% of attendees, reveals a new study led by Philip Morgan, Deputy Director of the Priority Research Centre for Physical Activity and Nutrition and HDHK/DADEE founder. Morgan’s revolutionary new program is designed for implementation in communities worldwide to combat the rising childhood obesity epidemic.

In an interview with the Australian National Review, Philip stated We are really missing out on this opportunity to engage both parents, who are equally aware of evidence based parenting practices to optimize their children’s health using food nutrition and physical activity as the engagement medium”.

Morgan went on to say “To address this imbalance, the DADEE study built upon research showing that fathers who are actively engaged with their daughters can impact on a host of important physical and mental health outcomes. These include higher levels of cognitive ability, self-esteem, social skills, resilience, physical activity and educational outcomes. Further, the masculine interaction style of fathers (more physical, unpredictable) naturally complements exercise and physical activity and provides a unique platform to engage fathers and daughters and maximise the inherent social-emotional benefits. However, no previous study has tested these theories using a rigorous research design.”

Australia is ranked as the 25th fattest nation in the world, and the second fattest first-world nation, behind the US. In the last 30 years Australia has seen an 80% rise in adult obesity, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The economic impacts in 2008 for obesity in adults and children alike amounted to around $58 billion, thus causing concern for health professionals and families. Despite Australia’s rather regulated fast food industry, trends continue to rise. It has been revealed that children and adults alike who live in lower socioeconomic towns have higher rates of obesity and are overall less active than their richer counterparts.

Obesity raises the likelihood of bad health following children into adulthood. Likelihoods of both long and short-term diseases such as Type-2 diabetes, asthma and cardiovascular disease are liable to follow inactive children through to adulthood. Include the risks to mental health such as victimisation, bullying and discrimination, affecting the overall health of children’s’ lives, says the Dieticians Association of Australia.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare’s 2012 publication on children states, All children naturally gain body weight as they grow and develop; however, for excess weight gain to occur, an imbalance must exist between the amount of energy children are consuming and the energy they expend over an extended period of time. While genetics may play an intervening role, it is clear that cultural, environmental, economic, familial and individual behavioral factors also influence the likelihood of this imbalance occurring.”

Children living in the areas of greatest relative disadvantage had higher rates of being overweight (20%) compared with children living in lower relative disadvantage areas (14%) and had more than double the rate of obesity (12%) compared with children living in areas with the lowest disadvantage (5%).”- Australian Bureau of Statistics.

In addition to this, the research from HDHK has demonstrated that physical health, weight and parenting style of the father, even if the mother is of healthy weight, plays an outstanding role. Health organisations have stressed for parents to intervene with their children, including food advertising and ‘strong parental support’ for tighter restrictions.

Clare Collins, spokesperson for the DAA talked with the Australian National Review regarding childhood obesity. The DAA website, along with the Victorian and NSW Government health websites provide free information for families and parents with nutritional information and ‘myth busters’ on current food trends.

Clare went on to say “Children’s lifestyle tends to mirror their parents’ lifestyle…we need the whole family to eat healthy and be more active”. The Longitudinal Study of Australian Children Annual Statistical Report of 2011 states“After a precipitous 20-year rise in childhood obesity since about 1985…there is some evidence that its prevalence may now be stabilising…though there few reports (suggesting) that the prevalence has actually begun to fall”.

Studies on childhood obesity seem to vary from source to source, although one thing most studies have in common is the sense of urgency and need for change in Australian children’s health. Regarding measures in place and the state of children’s health, Clare also went on to say “It’s crept up on us…it’s on the radar for all state governments, and all departments need to be on the same page”.

It is argued that if the lifestyles of parents continue to grow at an unhealthy rate, especially that of fathers in more disadvantaged areas, more children will be battling to keep active futures.

If the attitudes of fathers in Australia’s most disadvantaged areas continue to worsen in lifestyle choices such as an exercise and healthy eating habits, the future for children born into it could be fighting obesity throughout their futures.

Professor Phillip Morgan on the Healthy Dads and Kids website’s research stated, Previous research demonstrated that it was the parenting styles and behaviours of fathers, and not mothers, that predicted preschool children’s overweight status.  Further research found that a father’s parenting style predicted better maintenance of weight loss in obese children.”

Morgan went on to say,“a lot of families don’t realise that there are parental strategies that have a major influence on children’s outcomes both physically and mentally. But where do you possibly receive the information regarding evidence based parenting practices and strategies? – This highlights the need for community-based education programs.”

“Dads initially sign up to our programs to lose a few kilos, thinking that it would also be nice to spend some quality time with their kids participating in some fun physical activities,” he said. “During the program they come to understand the profound influence that their parenting practices, actions, behaviours, and attitudes have on their children – this realisation becomes a driving force behind their motivation to get fit and become more engaged in their children’s lives.”

During an interview, Morgan said, “HDHK has been rigorously tested in University-based trials and numerous community roll outs across seven local government areas (funded by Hunter Medical Research Institute/Coal & Allied). Approximately 500 fathers and 1000 children have completed the program with profound physical and mental health benefits demonstrated for both, and published in leading international journals. The program has resulted in clinically important weight loss for dads, increases in physical activity and improved healthy eating for dads and kids. Fathers report the quality time spent with their children as a highlight of the program and mothers report major family benefits.”




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